Aug. 25—CONCORD — A House redistricting panel decided Wednesday it would hold "public listening sessions" in all 10 counties to take comment on how the Legislature should redraw voting district lines to comply with the 2020 Census.
Committee chairman and state Rep. Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, said these meetings, starting in mid-September, will conclude before the committee opens public discussion about proposed maps for new districts to elect state lawmakers, county commissioners and the state's two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 15-person Special Committee on Redistricting faces a tight time frame with the deadline of Nov. 18 to make recommendations for the Legislature to act upon in the 2022 session.
Also on Wednesday, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, named Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, to chair a three-person Senate redistricting panel that includes Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester and Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead.
Morse named two senators to serve as alternates.
Gray said the bills to redraw lines for state Senate and Executive Council districts will start in the Senate.
Griffin said there weren't plans for the House committee to provide online streaming access for listening sessions because this would be difficult in remote parts of the state.
The sessions will not be taking online comments from the public, she said.
"Providing a different path in different counties does not make sense," Griffin said.
Vice Chairman Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, said some of these listening sessions could be available online if the town or city cable company chooses to broadcast it.
Once maps are drawn, the committee will take public comment but that schedule remains to be set, Griffin added.
Fair Maps group reacts to initial plan
A group of roughly two dozen activists held signs outside the Legislative Office Building calling on the panel to ensure robust public participation.
"The committee adjourned today without committing to a virtual participation option for the public listening sessions being held in each county before the maps are drawn or to a public schedule for further hearings after the maps are created," said Louise Spencer, a member of the Fair Maps Coalition that's made its own recommendations for how redistricting should be done.
"The only way for Granite Staters to feel that there is fairness in their elections is in an open, fair, and transparent process."
Smith said that during the 2021 legislative session it was difficult to determine if many attending and making public comments on bills were from outside New Hampshire.
"We're inviting everyone to weigh in with their comments in person or by email," Smith said. "At the end of the day, New Hampshire voters and policymakers should drive this outcome."
The committee unanimously approved the same template used in the past, to divvy up all 400 House members by county and respect if possible election ward line changes approved in cities.
By population, each House member should represent 3,444 people, up from the 3,291 used for House redistricting 10 years ago.
To create a statistically defensible map, Smith said the House will continue to need floterial districts in which voters from a group of towns or city wards together elects lawmakers to account for excess population above the ideal number in some communities.
"Everyone hates floterials, but they are a mathematical necessity to make the districts as close to population perfect as possible," Smith said.
Griffin said she agreed with the analysis of Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, who concluded Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford counties each should get one additional House seat.
Meanwhile, the counties of Coos to the north, Cheshire to the southwest and Sullivan in the Upper Valley would each lose a seat apiece.
"Clearly the growth has been to the south and the southeast," Griffin said.
Rep. Paul Bergeron, D-Nashua, said election officials in Concord and Dover said they aren't likely to finish their ward redrawing work until next January.